The Wailers infuse reggae flavor into Summerfest's opening night
No, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer -- to say nothing of Junior Brathwaite, Constantine "Vision" Walker, Cherry Smith and Beverly Kelso -- were not at Summerfest on the opening night of the 11-day music festival.
In fact, half of the people that can honestly be called "original Wailers" no longer trod this Earth, and are certainly not riding in tour buses. But that hasn't stopped a couple variations of The Wailers from working the tour circuit.
Formed as a vocal group in the explosive days of ska, The Wailers expanded to include instrumental musicians -- namely the rhythm team of the Barrett brothers -- around the time Bob, Peter and Bunny began recording with producer Lee Perry in the late '60s. More musicians came in when The Wailers recorded "Catch a Fire" and became an international touring act in 1973.
The band that headlined the Potawatomi Stage at Summerfest on Thursday night is built around Marley's stalwart long-time bassist (and arranger / bandleader) Aston "Family Man" Barrett, who -- along with Bunny Wailer -- is one of the few surviving long-standing Wailers.
(The "Original Wailers" band that also tours, features the two guitarists that fueled Marley's '70s backing band -- Al Anderson and Junior Marvin -- and briefly included another Wailers veteran, keyboardist Wya Lindo.)
The group working with Barrett currently includes keyboardist Keith Sterling, drummer Anthony Watson, guitarist Audley Chisholm, and vocalist Koolant, Danglin, Maria Smith and Racquel Hinds. Singer Duane Stephenson often guests.
Thursday night at Summerfest, Barrett led this group of musicians through a string of Marley classics.
Despite the fact that since Marley's death, The Wailers have issued a number of CDs of original music, none of their songs were performed under the roof of the Potawatomi pavilion.
Instead, the entire roughly 90-minute set exclusively featured Marley tunes like"Jamming," "One Love," "Natural Mystic" and "Kinky Reggae."
The venue was packed to the gills and, in fact, overflowing, with dancing and singing fans content to listen from outside despite the lack of stage view.
Most rewarding about the set was the inclusion of some unexpected "deep cuts" like "Thank You Lord," "Hypocrites" and "Jah Live."
When, early on, "The Heathen" -- from 1977's "Exodus" LP -- was intoned, Barrett's slow, low, thundering and hypnotic bass line reminded us of his brilliance and of the skill of the band he's assembled.
No one -- other than me -- seemed to care in the slighest about who was actually on stage. In the end, they were content to spend a warm summer night swaying to the alluring beat of some familiar reggae classics.
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